Ever feel like you’re being talked to behind your back..?

Of course one can always adopt a personal creed and receive some of the benefits, but the full benefits are impossible for most people (maybe even all people?) to have without believing the truth claims as part of a community.It’s possible for a rejectionist community to crop up that exists on the margins that rejects the truth claims of a religion, of course (as we see here all the time.) They can exist forever harvesting people that fall out of the main religion and they can build a community around their common rejection. But they, in reality, can only exist so long as the original religion exists for them to reject since that is the main thing they have in common and the only thing they can really build a community around. They are not an independent religion and they owe much — nearly all — to the religion they reject.

This is a lovely gem from a comment Bruce Nielson made at Mormon Matters.

I didn’t want to focus so much on that (but I’ll get to it) — I just found it was an interesting comment…really, earlier in the discussion was another comment by Arthur that I wanted to capitalize on:

Religion is powerful (and yes, ORGANIZED religion is powerful) because not only does it attempt to explain the purpose of life and “how to get to Heaven.” It also creates practical systems and situations for living. It cements people together. It helps people understand other people. It creates unity and community. It gives us incentive to love one another. And I think the “truthfulness” of the Church and Christ’s Gospel hinges not on whether there were horses in America before Columbus… but on how the Church affects people. How it brings people together. How it causes me to love my neighbor. What are the fruits?

This comment was questioned by other commenters about whether it allowed a “kind of atheism and/or agnosticism and/or postmodernism under the veil of faithful Mormonism.”

Now, since I’m a fuddy duddy, I’m all in favor of atheism and/or agnosticism and/or postmodernism under the veil of faithful Mormonism. Heck, when I was a member, the “truthfulness” of the Gospel most certainly didn’t hinge on whether there were horses in America before Columbus or if those Egyptian papyri were common burial texts. So that didn’t affect me at all; I never had a shocking moment finding out the evidence was poor at best because I already didn’t believe it to be physically true. I’m still trying to find an article I had read online that had captured it so well, (heavy paraphrasing:) “Although people expected a mass apostasy or falling out of the church when Egyptologists revealed the true nature of the Pearl of Great Price papyrus, there was no such thing. The faithful members found other explanations, and as for the cultural or fringe members? They didn’t leave because they never believed in the literal truth of these scriptures.”

It’s just that for me, the fruits don’t seem all that great. It’s like diet coke — wow, this analogy will be so apt for church members — the church starts out tasting good, but it has a nasty aftertaste that you either have to rationalize and suck up (don’t focus on those parts; don’t let what members say offend you!)…or reject and spit out (I don’t have to take this; I don’t have to jump through hoops.) When people say that we must focus first on Christ/God/whoever and that is the greatest good, I get a little skeptical. Much of it is the package deal.

But going back to Bruce’s comments above, will going it alone really work satisfactorily for everyone? I mean, it does for me, because I’m not too big on community anyway, but will it suffice for everyone? How many people stay in because they want some social fulfillment in a familiar setting?

Not to mention he hits a harder theme — our community (if we can call it that — I guess we can) isn’t so unified by anything except our origin in the church (and our current place outside). All of us are going in different directions, and even when we talk about our current beliefs, it becomes readily apparent that a lot of us have vastly different ones.

I’m not too concerned, necessarily, because once again, I like the idea of going it alone, and specifically refering to something Bruce had said, I don’t think we need to create an “independent religion.”

Andrew S

Andrew S grew up in a military family, but apparently, that didn't make much of an impression upon him because he has since forgotten all of his French and all of his Hangungmal (but he does mispronounce the past tense of "win" like the Korean currency and thinks that English needs to get it together!) Andrew is currently a student at Texas A&M who loves tax accounting, the social sciences, fencing (epee), typography, presentation design, and public speaking, smartphones, linux, and nonparallel structured lists.

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11 Responses

  1. Comment No 1 is one of the most short sighted, idiotic statements I’ve come across and I surf the right wing blogs for fun.

    Has ol Brucie ever heard of the Protestant Reformation? In the beginning of course it was a group of disaffected radicals publishing pamphlets and spreading ideas around. They were little else but a Disaffected Catholic Underground. 200 years later, and you’ve got the third major schism in Christianity merrily going to town and taking over the world.

    How long can we trace the history of the DAMU? Hell, the Internet has only been around for 20 years.

    The big lesson you learn when you get your big boy (or girl) disaffection pants is HUMILITY. You’re not a member of the Superfriends, your one more shmoe on a minor planet in a corner of an ordinary galaxy. Who knows what’s going to come of it?

    When you are a member of the Superfriends… I guess you know the entire history of the world and the future. It’s a no thought required zone

  2. Aaron says:

    Your paraphrase reminded me of this:

    “When the scrolls were given to the Church in the 60s, and analyzed by Nibley, and written about in the Church publications, my own father expected some kind of Armageddon — that many thousands of people would lose their belief and follow some of the Brethren out of the Church. It didn’t happen. There was a collective shrug.” – D. Fletcher (>>)

    I have a messy collection of thoughts and quotes on this issue here:


  3. chanson says:

    When I was a believer, I wouldn’t have imagined one could be any kind of Mormon without believing the ancient history aspects to be literally true. Finding out about the papyrus was a very big deal for me, as I explained in part 2 of my deconversion.

    That’s the way my mother taught me. It probably varies from family to family.

    Additionally, there may be a generational aspect — even though you’re not that much younger than I am 😉 a lot of information access is changing at a dramatic rate. As it becomes more difficult to keep real evidence about ancient history at bay, the importance of seeing the unique Mormon scriptures as literal history can be subtly de-emphasized.

  4. Andrew S says:

    re 1:

    hmm…looking at it that way does kinda detooth the comment. I mean, even looking at the church’s history (even though it claims not to be a rejectionist church but a restorationist church), it does seem to just be doing a whole lot of rejecting and yet it seems to be independent just fine!

    I don’t think there’s any need to make such a forceful criticism of the comment though — anything at actually makes a salient point can’t really be the “most idiotic” anything.

  5. Andrew S says:

    re 2:

    Aaron…that comment seems so familiar, and it’s like the one I was thinking of (especially the “collective shrug part”, yet, I don’t think that was it. The one I’m thinking of was part of a larger essay.

    When I read things like “If a person does not care about their theology, they miss the importance of rooting their entire life in the true knowledge of God and a true, coherent, rational, theological worldview” I wonder — no offense — if we are living in the same world. As just a matter of finger-counting statistics, I can guess that the “true knowledge of God” escapes so many people and is misconstrued by millions of others who all think they have it (yet we see that the effect of this in their life is nowhere near as what you would expect [unless it, like the Holy Ghost, is a “still small benefit”]). So it doesn’t even seem like religion is a good way of finding this “true knowledge” of God — especially for all the pluralities that are trying.

    And then the part about the “true, coherent, rational, theological worldview” is ambitious, but this ambition opens several cracks. It is “true” when you accept certain axioms because you want to (and I accept that people want to). It is “coherent” when you accept the circular reasoning that will defend itself from scrutiny and criticism by blocking these things out (which is no different, in my opinion, than an atheological tendency, except it is based on different axioms [and I think that surviving religions have simply made really good axioms that keep people in]). It is not rational though…but that’s really what faith is about. Faith is unrational, prerational, postrational. I’ll be charitable and not call it irrational. However, going back to being charitable, as an unrational (but not necessarily irrational thing), faith still is a good concept because it allows us to bridge a gap with a world that supposedly could be empty if we only looked at it rationally — but if we broke away from rationality and took that ‘leap to faith’, it could be more. I guess some people literally feel their lives would be “meaningless” without someone keeping the official score throughout it. I guess I won’t deny them their hope for that.

    I think that if people don’t take an atheological approach, then there is danger not just for Mormons but for nonMormon religious people as well. I get this idea that nonMormon Christians seem to think that if Mormons could just “look away from the fraud that Joseph Smith raised around their eyes,” then they’d become perfect Christians. I guess that works for the good folks at Mormon Coffee or elsewhere, but in my eye, and I guess popular anecdote, when Mormons leave the church because their atheological approach has collapsed and their theology doesn’t work out for them, I think they are much more likely to become general nonbelievers, skeptics, atheists, agnostics, etc., precisely because these kinds of faults are key in most, if not all religions.

  6. Andrew S says:

    re 3:

    no, seriously, chanson, I thought that even I was pretty strange since everyone else in my wards was accepting this stuff without a thought. I mean, I doubt that many of the people in my classes (like…primary level or YM/YW level) were even *thinking* about historicity at such young ages, but I guess I just had a natural skepticism for that.

    I definitely think families have some part of it. While I couldn’t imagine myself becoming a zealous believer even if I were in such a family (I’d just be more rebellious, I think), I can’t say if that’s how things would actually turn out. I had a family that was not really zealous (my father has weird beliefs and my mom is a classic example of what the church believes of all inactives — she got offended by what someone said to her [repeatedly] and stopped going…she still says she believes, but I doubt it.)

    I don’t think it’s a generational aspect so don’t worry about that :). I mean, we’ve seen a lot of deemphasis in times — some major and some not so major — but I doubt we’d ever come to a deemphasis of the basic literality of the scriptures. I don’t know if the church still teaches that Native Americans are Lamonites (…in my Oklahoma ward, I admit that there are a few Native Americans who are quite enamored with the idea and share that frequently)…but it doesn’t seem like, just because the genetics are against such an idea, that the church would want to disqualify BoM historicity because of that.

  7. chanson says:

    I mean, we’ve seen a lot of deemphasis in times — some major and some not so major — but I doubt we’d ever come to a deemphasis of the basic literality of the scriptures. I don’t know if the church still teaches that Native Americans are Lamonites

    Yes, but, I think the fact that they no longer teach that the Native Americans are Lamanites (even though the text itself indicates it), is a big signal (psychologically) that the BoM is historically questionable, even if they never openly say it’s okay to view the scriptures as not literally true.

    That said, it’s possible that the difference from one family to the next is greater than the generational difference. Have a look at this map of BoM lands that my mother helped my brother and sister and I draw when I was only five. Obviously I had the “BoM as literal history” emphasized from a young age.

    Plus, weirdly, it seems like skepticism can manifest itself in weird ways. Mormon truths seem to encourage general magical thinking for some people and not others. As I explained in I believe in Santa Claus, my mother was pretty skeptical about most types of woo. When I brought home from elementary school an article about the Bermuda Triangle, and later a book that talked about ESP in Jr. High, both times her reaction was essentially that my critical thinking should make it obvious why this sort of thing is a bunch of hooey. Yet she placed Mormon truth into a separate box, shielded by faith and testimony from this type of skeptical analysis.

    Sorry if this whole comment is kind of tangential, but it does tie in with your remark: “All of us are going in different directions, and even when we talk about our current beliefs, it becomes readily apparent that a lot of us have vastly different ones” — and even held vastly different beliefs from each other as church members… 😉

  8. Andrew S says:

    *saves the map links for future blackmail*

    I guess I can see, with that kind of example, how the church is kinda deemphasizing the literal nature of the scriptures. I mean, I can remember at least thinking that the BoM was *supposed* to take place over the entirety of South and North America, and your map pays homage to that.

    So even I had to crook my head a bit when I found out that the latest apologists were suggesting that the BoM took place in a rather limited area — but then again, that kind of claim seems strategically safer because it limits the necessity of having to find historical locations everywhere in the western hemisphere.

    I completely agree about how people can have different levels of skepticism for different things. My dad, even though he’s my central figure for weirdness I know, has a distant line he just won’t cross.

  9. Bruce Nielson says:

    I want to clarify my comment. It’s specifically about what you can build a community around.

    The suggestion that the Protestant Reformation is a counter example is not true. While the protestant reformation may well have started out as merely “rejectionists” it certainly isn’t that way today. Same for Mormons. It wasn’t until they had a shared theology that they could form a permanent community around that they were able to form a non-rejectionist community and no longer be co-dependant on their origin religion.

    You may or may not agree with my assessment, but now you’ll understand what I really meant.

  10. Bruce Nielson says:

    Clarification: Protestants are not, today, a rejectionist movement and haven’t been (if at all) since nearly there very foundations. They have a full theology that is well thought out that they can build a community around entirely separate from their Catholic originators.

    And Protestants do NOT self identify as “Disaffected Catholics.” On the contrary, they don’t really identify with Catholics much at all. They really have become a seperate religion.

    If the DAMU movement were to, at some point, spawn a new religion that were to exist as a real religion, they’d certainly no longer think of themselves as DAMUs. Indeed, likely they wouldn’t even think of themselves as “Mormon” or having anything to do with Mormons.

  11. Andrew S says:

    Bruce, I see what you were saying; that was the way I had originally interpreted your message before seeing bloggernacleburner’s comment (and I want, regardless of if bb likes it or not, to apologize for bb’s charged criticism…)

    I think that the very nature of the DAMU “movement” is one that will not quite spawn a new religion, and one that need not. But we have those groups like Mormon Coffee who…don’t necessarily form new religions, but simply join non-Mormon Christian ministries with a twist — these guys seem to have a relatively central focus on trying to discredit/’protect’ people from Mormonism. Kinda strange, but that’s a community that really requires both — the church they reject and the churches they have joined.

    Meanwhile, the New Order Mormons and groups like that don’t really want anything radically different from the foundation that they once had…they just want certain changes here or there.

    As for exmormons and former mormons, these are people whose communal identities is, as you say, defined by that common rejection. But it may not just be common “rejection,” since that also is presumptive — it could have been a more of a miscarriage that they never recover from. But…as you can see, this doesn’t necessarily make the Ex/Former community the most stable thing ever. You’ve got some people who just want to rant and rave, some people who just want to move on and never talk about it again, and people in between.

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